Food poisoning and travel: the unfortunate duo that always seem to go hand-in-hand!
If you’ve ever suffered through a bout of food poisoning, you know how dreadful that experience can be. But if you’ve ever suffered through a bout of food poisoning while traveling… well, that’s a whole different animal.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that food poisoning causes 48 million illnesses and up to 3,000 deaths each year. Without your general practitioner, the comforts of home and your mom on speed dial, a bad situation can become downright miserable.
Anything you can do to prevent food poisoning or shorten its life cycle once it begins (or at least put a halt to some of the more unpleasant symptoms) will change the game for you if you ever actually come down with something.
Here are some tips on how to fight food poisoning.
1) Take a Probiotic Before Traveling
Several weeks before your trip, begin taking a probiotic to help ward off any stomach issues while traveling. Educate yourself on foods to avoid in certain countries and when bottled water is a necessity. Talk to your doctor about obtaining a prescription for an antibiotic to take with you as well as instructions for what symptoms to look for when considering taking the medicine. Also talk to your doctor about obtaining prescription anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medications and when it is best to take them versus letting the illness run its course.
2) Pack Oral Re-hydration Salts
The biggest threat to you when you’re battling food poisoning is dehydration. Plan in advance by packing oral rehydration salts into your travel medicine kit, which you can throw into any bottle of water. You might also want to pack a first aid kit with any over-the-counter medicine that might be hard to obtain in foreign countries.
3) Drink Bottled Water
Some of the biggest contaminants that will make you sick are found in the water. If you’re traveling somewhere that you know you can’t drink out of the tap, plan on drinking bottled water. I always travel with my own water bottle, as many hotels have filtered water available. In an ideal world, you could bring a water bottle and then not have to rely on plastic bottles — but that’s not always possible. Sometimes you’ll find you’re just emptying plastic water bottles into your water container. To combat this, you can find a self-filtering water bottle like this one on Amazon.
Also, try not to open your mouth when you shower! If you’re really concerned you should also consider brushing your teeth with filtered water.
4) Avoid Fruits Without Peels
Don’t eat anything raw that doesn’t have a peel. In other words, stick to fruits like bananas. If you’re going to eat fruit that you bite directly into, take a few moments to wash that fruit with your own filtered water before digging in.
5) Eat at Busy Places
This is not fail-proof, but typically, places that are busier have higher turnover with food, meaning less chance for spoilage. They also usually have a better reputation among the community. If you see a lot of locals, that’s usually a good sign that you’re where you want to be — whether you’re eating street food in Mexico or at a stall in Thailand.
If you don’t like the look of the meat, eat vegetarian. Try not to eat meat that’s been hanging in the window at room temperature all day — but know that you can’t always avoid this.
6) Drink Soda in Cans
Make sure you’re opening that can yourself. When buying bottled water, make sure that water bottle has a seal that has not been opened before. Cans are better than bottles in that they are less likely to have been reused.
7) Wash Your Hands Often
You’re bound to pick up things on your hands while traveling through a new country. Wash your hands at every opportunity with soap, for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands when you go to the bathroom. Avoid touching your face if you can!
How to Treat Food Poisoning
Symptoms of food poisoning usually present 48 hours after eating contaminated food. If despite your best efforts you become ill with food poisoning, follow your doctor’s previous instructions with regard to taking any medications. Your primary concern at this point, however, is dehydration. Drinking as much clear fluids as possible, especially containing the oral rehydration packets you brought along, is a must. If water is a challenge, though, suck on (filtered) ice chips just to introduce some fluids into your body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of severe dehydration include extreme thirst; irritability and confusion; very dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes; lack of sweating; little or no urination – any urine that is produced will be dark yellow or amber; sunken eyes; shriveled and dry skin that lacks elasticity and doesn’t “bounce back” when you pinch into a fold; low blood pressure (which people generally take generic amlodipine tablets for, with good success rates); rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing; no tears when crying; fever; and in the most serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness.
If you have any question that you have entered the zone of dehydration and you are unable to injest any liquids, it’s time to seek medical treatment.
Talk to someone at your hostel or hotel to find a doctor or hospital. After the vomiting ceases and you are able to hold down liquids, slowly begin eating bland foods following the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) diet.